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Nibbling at our big fat presidential inauguration

2019-05-26 09:25
President Cyril Ramaphosa (Kopano Tlape/GCIS)

President Cyril Ramaphosa (Kopano Tlape/GCIS)

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Ramaphosa is the Mandela of our times, it has been suggested. Brace yourselves, folks. In the next few days and weeks you will be told and retold of his stellar struggle credentials, writes Tinyiko Maluleke.

Like modern bedrooms which come with built-in toilets and concealed cisterns, many democracies, the South African edition included, come en suite with presidents, presidential inaugurations and hidden costs.

But are there some hidden benefits? Maybe. Presidential inaugurations are but one of several strategic instruments of the state for the cultivation of so-called social coherence and peoplehood. Surely, that is good and necessary, isn't it? Maybe. This is especially so in a country like ours, where the slow-cooking symphony of nation- building is constantly interrupted by the jangling discords of the rich eating the poor and the poor eating the poor.

It is possible to argue that, actually, the poor have more need for inaugurations and similar festivities. In our dire situation of extreme inequality and rising levels of poverty, the poor may need momentary escapes from their daily misery.

And so it is that our sixth presidential inauguration since democracy was also an opportunity to soak our national sorrows in a river of wine, beer and spirits that have flowed. It was a moment to burn our troubles in the pulsating sounds of our homegrown music, if only for the shortest of times.

Those lucky enough to be invited or randomly admitted into Loftus Stadium, got the chance not only to breathe the same air with the rich and famous, but to dig into the mountains of food that was on offer. Before the vote of thanks, rituals of nation-building were performed: the police marched and saluted one another, the army unleashed the twenty-one-gun salute, the SA-flag-carrying -planes hovered up above, the lords of all sorts were duly worshipped, the Amandla was shouted several times and the national anthem rang across the stadium.

Through these rites and rituals, we were psychologically vaccinated against the spirit of rebellion, ingratitude and insurrection. Our sense of disappointment with the mistakes of the past twenty-five years was duly deadened. The power of ruling classes and that of the state was displayed, reinforced and furiously performed.

Of course, some progress has been made since 1994. ANC politicians have lists, graphs, pie charts, sound bites and video clips to prove it. But for the man and woman who is a member of the tribe of the unemployed, for the woman without a home and for the parent whose child fell and died inside a pit latrine at school, these impressive statistics mean nothing. Nor do they mean anything for the 25 million South Africans who live in abject poverty.

Of course our presidential inauguration could have been done more cost-effectively – using television, online streaming, social media and radio. Perhaps some of the savings could have been used to upgrade some of the hundreds of mud schools scattered across the land.

Injection of hope should not be wasted

But, in a situation where hope is dissipating fast, the opportunity for some injection of hope into the chests of the poor, should not be wasted, we are told.

Besides, not to have a big fat party for a president such as Cyril Ramaphosa, could be as un-South African in post-apartheid South Africa as it would have been in apartheid South Africa. What is R150 million in inauguration costs between desperate citizens and its most beloved president since Mandela? Would we rather be still paying the R240 million we paid in 2014, we have been asked. My own word of caution is that this Shoprite-Checkers like marketing gimmick, should not be swallowed hook and sinker.

Ramaphosa is the Mandela of our times, it has been suggested. He is the first president, since Mandela himself, to try this hard to evoke and to invoke Nelson Mandela. Brace yourselves, folks. In the next few days and weeks you will be told and retold of his stellar struggle credentials.

It will be suggested that, in and of themselves, his struggle credentials are an essential ingredient in the hope-giving diet that must be served to rich and poor South Africans alike. Ramaphosa biographers will spring into action. Soon, all manner of Ramaphosa praise singers will crawl out of the woods. Move over Mark Gevisser and Jeremy Gordin – the Mbeki and Zuma biographers respectively. Enter Ray Hartley and Anthony Butler – the Ramaphosa biographers, respectively. Phakama Ramaphosa ixesha lifikile! [Rise up Ramaphosa, the/your time has arrived!]

And so our noses will be rubbed in the cold and sometimes sanitised facts of the amazing life of Cyril Ramaphoa. In tweets, opinion pieces and scholarly articles, we will be re-taught of he, who gave us intoxicating Ramaphoria at a time when the very soul of the nation was being eaten away by the locusts of state capture. He, who founded the most powerful union the South African mining sector has ever seen – the NUM. (PS: In these post-Marikana days of AMCU, well, NUM may no longer be that powerful. But Ramaphosa is.)

The buffalo soldier is back

He, who held out the microphone as the newly released Nelson Mandela delivered his very first speech as a free man. He, who together with Roelf Meyer, is the architect of our "negotiated revolution" – a phrase bequeathed to us by Allister Sparks.

We will be reminded of he, who wrote our revered constitution (almost) single-handedly, or something to that effect. He, the behind-the-scenes magician of the South African miracle. He, who used to be the general secretary of the ANC. He, who though outmanoeuvred by Thabo Mbeki for the post of deputy president in 1994, patiently and meticulously waited his turn. Doesn't the good book say that "good things come to those who wait"?

The buffalo soldier is now back, wiser, stronger, and need we add, richer – it will be pointed out. He is back to lead ANC herd into defensive formation, and to lead the country into a bright new dawn, we will hear.

And yet, as Bob Marley sang about the buffalo soldier, our beloved buffalo soldier has been "fighting on arrival, fighting for survival". Neither the December 2017 ANC victory at Nasrec, nor the May 8 elections victory for the ANC were total. Perhaps no political victory is ever total. He may spend the next five years fighting for survival!

Now, the inauguration itself was pleasing to the eye – jealous down. Ramaphosa looked, walked and spoke like a president, our president. The ambience was germane and the moment was profound. Across the land, many chests must have swelled with pride, and many may have slipped into a euphoric trance as they watched and listened.

But here is the thing: Who are the real beneficiaries of our big fat inauguration? The citizens on the one hand or the president, his cabinet and the inauguration day service providers on the other? Or is it both? If so who – between them – will be able to cash their inauguration dividends immediately?

At his inauguration 25 years ago, Nelson Mandela said: "We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people". That was then, now is now. Hope and dreams have lost their potency as the great tranquilliser of the masses. A quarter of a century is a long time to wait for Godot.

- Professor Tinyiko Maluleke is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Pretoria Center for the Advancement of Scholarship. You can follow him on Twitter @ProfTinyiko

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

Read more on:    nelson mandela  |  cyril ramaphosa
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